The June issue of the BJGP was noteworthy for several reasons. Most strikingly was the beautiful redesign and compelling headline, ‘Acupuncture: effective in a randomised trial for patients with unexplained symptoms’.1 Fantastic, I thought — groundbreaking research! So, it was with much anticipation that I removed the last shreds of cellophane to delve into your esteemed tome.
Sadly, it was wholly disappointing and somewhat incensing to read the actual acupuncture research. Heralded by you as ‘positive results’ from a ‘randomised controlled trial’ revealing ‘significant and sustained benefit (for patients) who frequently attend (GP clinics) with medically unexplained symptoms’.2 I fear these comments were more than liberal with the truth.
As a medically trained doctor who now works in education, part of my remit is to teach the scientific method to 16 and 17 year olds. I dare say that the methodological flaws present in the acupuncture trials would have been obvious even to them. The research used a very poorly defined patient group (medically unexplained symptoms), had numerous patient selection biases and had failed to use a true placebo. This only scratches the surface; an internet search for ‘acupuncture; BJGP’ will present you numerous articles that report the articles’ failings in great depth.
In an age where peer-reviewed journals are coming under increasing scrutiny, I do not envy your position. In part, I can sympathise with the pressures of being a periodical editor having recently undertaken the role of editing a popular science magazine myself. However, your periodical has a very unique audience: time-harassed GPs seeking the best evidence-based practice, many of whom will barely have the time to read past the editorial and abstracts. The high quality reader-friendly redesign is definitely a step forward, but it is imperative that content is to the same standard.
So it was with much surprise on receiving this month's (July) edition of BJGP to find no mention of the controversial acupuncture trials in either the letters section or the editorial. In all humility, I strongly urge you to reconsider your unequivocal praise for this research. At the very least, please engage in discussion with your readers about the merits/failings of this research. June's edition of the BJGP has been ridiculed as ‘tabloid medical journalism’; for the sake of the profession's reputation and, most importantly, patient welfare, take action now and set the record straight.
- © British Journal of General Practice 2011